Congressional hearings into Trump-Russian ties are scheduled to reconvene this week. The Senate Intel Committee is still readying witnesses after shutting down Michael Flynn’s bid for immunity while House Intel Chair Devin Nunes may have torpedoed one probe by colluding with the White House. Yet the timeline of events is still making steady additions, including a near-miss in February that would have seen a meeting between President Trump and a Russian banking official, who — as it turns out — is also an alleged Russian mafia kingpin. Whew.
Alexander Torshin was scheduled not only attend to the Feb. 2 National Prayer Breakfast (which Trump opened by trashing Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Apprentice ratings) but also to appear at a meet-and-greet with the president. However, a national security aide realized that Torshin is a suspected mafia “godfather” who’s part of a money laundering ring, and the White House pulled the plug at the last minute for obvious reasons:
[W]hile reviewing the list of guests, a White House national security aide responsible for European affairs noticed Torshin’s name and flagged him as a figure who had “baggage,” a reference to his suspected ties to organized crime, an administration official told Yahoo News. Around the same time, a former campaign adviser alerted the White House that the meeting could exacerbate the political controversy over contacts between Trump associates and the Kremlin, another source familiar with the matter said.
The sources were unable to say who inside the White House canceled the scheduled meeting, or precisely when the decision was made. The administration official who spoke to Yahoo News said that White House officials were already planning to scrap the meeting when the National Security Council staffer raised concerns about it. But it was not until the night before the Prayer Breakfast that Torshin was informed, without explanation, that his meeting with the president had been scrapped.
Well, that’s perfectly awkward. Torshin reportedly denies all involvement with the Russian mob, but Spanish newspaper El Pais reveals that Torshin was nearly nabbed by Spanish national police in 2013 when he planned to attend an event for another suspected Russian mob leader. Somehow, Torshin never appeared, so the presumption is that he was tipped off about being targeted by Spanish law enforcement.
Torshin holds deep ties to the Kremlin and once helped lead Putin’s United Russia Party. In 2015, he became the Bank of Russia’s deputy governor, and he’s thought to be one of the Kremlin’s top figures for “outreach to the conservative movement in the United States.” He also stands as one of the National Rifle Association’s “life members.” And the White House only realized the (alleged) mob stuff on the night before his scheduled Trump meeting? Crazy.
Meanwhile, Sunday saw another Kremlin maneuver. Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov appeared ABC’s This Week and spoke with George Stephanopoulos to suggest that Trump and Putin should soon “meet each other and exchange views.” Whenever this meeting ends up happening, this may bring the most meme-able handshake of all time.